Criticality of availability in the RAC sector


24 April 2017
Robert Franklin
RAC contractors are some of the unsung heroes of today’s society, and the availability of product is crucial to their success, says Robert Franklin, Development Director at Climate Center. However, contractors need to ensure they are using their supplier to their full potential in order to keep ahead of the game.

​There has always been an inherent need in society to do things faster, for us to have the freshest product and to make lives easier, so it’s no new notion for contractors to want to improve their first time fix rate. But today so many industries are heavily reliant on refrigeration and climate control that even the smallest amount of downtime can have detrimental effects. 
What industries do I refer to? Supermarkets, restaurants, frozen food storage, hospitality, fruit storage, healthcare, even mortuaries – the list goes on – so the role of the RAC contractor is ever more important to our society.
Take a fast food restaurant for example. The cold room is the heart of the restaurant and the constraints to which they operate mean they simply cannot afford for it to be out of service. All of the big chains have robust standards to which they have to adhere and if the freshness is compromised it would mean being unable to serve food or drink for an unforeseen amount of time.

But it affects more than just food. Hospitals are also dependent on refrigeration of supplies and quality of air, and could potentially prevent surgery from going ahead if any of it was to fail. It even touches the extremity of organ and blood transfers – strict temperature control is vital to the safe transportation and therefore survival.

Failure is actually more regular an occurrence than the average consumer might expect. The equipment is constantly under pressure which is why a large percentage of the work carried out in the sector is reactive. So what does that mean for service engineers? High expectations from customers. Failure has a huge cost to businesses, both direct and indirect. Initially there is the immediate cost of the repair and the parts or new equipment required, but then there are the associated consequences that can last much longer than the fault itself.

Let’s go back to the fast food example. If food has to be thrown away then there’s a cost attached - if customers get turned away then there’s a cost to the brand’s reputation and that could be long-term damage. Or if we think about the influx of express convenience stores across the country, customers expect these stores to have their essential products readily available and, if the refrigerator being down means they can’t purchase their milk, they are more likely to be inclined to shop elsewhere for their whole shopping list. What’s more, when there’s a compressor involved in a repair on site it would have an impact on the company’s ability to trade full stop. The business pressure to get such equipment back up and running is enormous.

Contractors in our industry also have a requirement for this first time fix capability in order to sustain the profitability of their companies and, while they do carry stock on their vans, there are limitations due to the shear variety of what’s available. To put it into context, Climate Center stock around 12000 refrigeration products, 5000 air conditioning products and 3000 associated controls, bracketry and tools. There are so many variations linking to one single product in terms of age, specification and manufacturer that it’s simply not possible to foresee everything they will require that week. 

We’ve talked about cost to the end-customer, but there’s also a cost to the contractor if they can’t fix it first time. It’s common practice in this sector to charge per job, so if an engineer is having to revisit a job because they didn’t have the right product the first time round then it starts to eat into their own margins. If they had to visit more than twice, it could even end up costing them, and of course no contractor wants to pay to fulfil a contract. The reputation of the RAC engineer is built on timing – they need to be able to solve a problem quickly and customers’ expectations will almost always be based on the last brand they dealt with because the cost of failure runs deeper than service and maintenance.

Because contractors need to be the best they can to hit SLA’s and ever-changing customer expectations, they also need a robust supply chain partner. If there’s one important message from the merchant to the contractor, it would be to use them to their full potential. Merchants are designed to provide a personal warehouse to contractors to provide what they need, exactly when they need it. Contemporary delivery models are designed around the customer. For example express delivery from Climate Center means that customers can order online by 8pm for next day delivery. When a contractor is called to an emergency repair job at a town’s leading supermarket, they can be reassured that 600 of the most commonly required parts will be available in every Climate Center branch across the country, with the wider 20,000 available next day.

London is an entity on its own regarding immediacy. The added pressure of congestion, parking woes and restricted site access can put the first time fix at even further risk. Solutions like in-night deliveries from Climate Center mean that product is available from 7.30am in central branches, with many located near tube stations to eliminate the need for road transport when picking up parts in central locations. Jumping on the tube to collect a part is often far quicker than driving. And it’s not just spare parts, it’s also important that essential items like bracketry, oxyacetylene and R32 are readily available for contractors, where and when they need it. 

The criticality of availability doesn’t stop at physical product, it’s the technical expertise behind a merchant that contractors need to make the most of. Having people that understand the problem you are dealing with in that emergency can be the difference between fixing it that day or not. Climate Center branch staff are fully trained and have many years of industry experience so customers can be confident that time won’t be wasted in communication.
In a world where tomorrow is just not good enough the pressure is mounting on our industry to repeatedly get it right first time. By taking advantage of a merchant network, contractors can continue to save the day while increasing the productivity of their business.

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